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>From the time when my dad moved out when I was 12, things continued in the same way for quite a few years. He would come over some evenings. He would come on holiday with us, and stay for a while over Christmas. At some point he started spending the weekends here. Then there would be times when I wouldn’t see him for a couple of months because of my mum or I getting upset about it all and cutting contact with him. Neither he, nor my mother, were seeing anyone else. It was a fairly strange relationship, as it was so uneven. My mum desperately wanted him back, and so everything was on his terms. He came over when he wanted, but if he wanted to do something else instead then he would, and my mum would get upset, which would generally lead to a period of her not wanting to see him. If she didn’t want to see him then I generally didn’t see him either. I hated going to his flat – I only did it a handful of times over a period of about 6 years. I didn’t like seeing that he had his own life away from us, and I didn’t feel comfortable there. So generally either he came here, or I didn’t see him.

At 16 I finished school and went of to 6th Form College to do A levels. It was a relief to leave H and co. behind – I don’t think I have seen anyone from my year group since I left school over 8 years ago, apart from briefly bumping into a couple of people, including her. Maybe she is a nicer person now. I hope so. I did ok in my GCSEs, but didn’t get the results I should have got, because I did no revision. That is something of a pattern for me. I think my fear of failure is so intense that I take it the opposite way and work on the premise that if I haven’t tried then it doesn’t matter if I have failed or done badly, whereas if I worked really hard and still didn’t do as well as I should then I would have no excuse – I would just be a failure.

Anyway, 6th Form College was a much better experience than school in many ways. It was literally 10 times the size in terms of student population, and obviously they were all aged 16 – 19, rather than 4 – 16 like my school had been, so there were rather more people in a year group at college – about 50 times more…. C was going to the same 6th Form, and I also knew a couple of other people, through performing, who were going there, but that was it. Oh, and a guy from my school, but I rarely saw him. In theory everything should have improved for me in college. I had friends, and obviously I was studying the subjects I wanted to etc. And in some ways it was great. I had some really good teachers, one of whom I am still in contact with now – he came to see me in Carousel. The main problem with it was that I didn’t want to be there. In the summer between finishing school and starting 6th Form, I had done a 2 week Musical Theatre summer course at one of the drama schools in London, and absolutely loved it, and therefore resented going off to study academic subjects when I wanted to be doing performing. I wished I was doing a Musical Theatre BTEC rather than A levels, so that I could be doing what I wanted to do. In retrospect I am glad I did A levels, and I don’t think my parents would have let me not do them anyway, but it resulted in once again my attendance being pretty poor, because I couldn’t be bothered with it, and so that, combined with not doing any work that didn’t absolutely have to be done, and not doing any revision at all, meant that I finished my first year with pretty poor results. I didn’t dislike college – as I have said, I had friends there, I enjoyed some of my lessons. I was very fortunate in that the Head of Music/Performing Arts seemed to think the sun shone from my arse, and so I got quite a few opportunities in that area. I was in the college choir, and got all the solos – I sung the Once In Royal solo 3 years running at the carol service (yes, I stayed 3 years – more on that later), as well as various other solos. I was always asked to perform in all of the concerts, and to record songs for the music tech students etc. In my 3rd year they did Les Miserables, and I pretty much got to choose my role, although that was actually a new member of staff directing that who had never taught me. We had a couple of auditions, and then were waiting ages for them to decide casting, and one day I asked if they had cast it yet, because I said I wanted to include it in my UCAS personal statement, and wanted to be able to say what part I was playing (oh the arrogance!) and got the reply, ‘well we haven’t finished casting yet, but I am assuming you would like Eponine as you sung On My Own in your audition?’ I said I would please, and that was that settled. College gave me a confidence in my abilities that school never had – in college there were 2000 people, all of my age, and yet I was the one who got the solos and the leads, and who the staff knew, even if they didn’t teach me. At school there was a lot of nepotism going on with casting, and so I never got leads, despite being the only person who regularly performed out of school (and regularly was cast in leads there). So college was good for making me realise I must be better than school had lead me to believe. My first year of college was fairly uneventful. I went to lessons some of the time, stayed home some of the time, did some of the work, didn’t do some of the work. I was still doing dance and singing lessons outside of college, and some shows, although I had started doing less by that time.

I had just started my second year of college, and so was just 17 when the next thing happened in my home life. My mum picked me up from the bus one day and was very upset – she had received an anonymous text message saying that my dad had been seeing someone for a year and that she should divorce him. It turned out that it was true – we never did know for sure who sent it, although the assumption was that his girlfriend (another 25 year old who worked for him) had got the number off his phone and sent it, although she denied it. Whilst he wasn’t living at home, and it was now 5 years since he had moved out, he hadn’t seen anyone in that time to our knowledge, apart from the initial affair, and had generally spent quite a lot of time at our house and with us. Of course in retrospect we realised that for the last year he hadn’t been spending weekends with us like he had been before that, and that he had been coming over less often, but since everything always had been on his terms anyway, we hadn’t really questioned it before. I was very upset – not that he was seeing someone, but that he had been lying to us for over a year. It really hurt me a lot, and I think made me lose a lot of trust in not only him, but people generally. I still can’t comprehend how and why he would lie like that for so long – it wasn’t like he was living here – they were separated, and had been for quite a few years. My mum was absolutely devastated. As I said, she always wanted to be with him, and this news was just too much for her. She refused to tell anyone – she wouldn’t even tell her friends or my siblings initially. She kept saying how ashamed she felt and how stupid she was for not knowing, and how if people knew they would laugh at her and think she was stupid. I think that for her too it was more about the secrecy, and not knowing than it was him seeing someone else, although obviously that hurt her too. Yet again, he broke up with her once we had found out. So we were back to keeping secrets (although we had never actually stopped) but this time it was just the two of us, as there were no siblings or friends or counsellors involved this time. And it really was role reversal – she was so upset, and had absolutely nobody to talk to apart from me, and so I listened to it all. Obviously I was older by this point, but she was really leaning on me quite heavily, and I couldn’t rely on her at all emotionally. And I started to crumble. Not in front of her. I didn’t let her know how much I was struggling. But I was struggling more and more. My mood was low and I started purging frequently.

I had a really great teacher at college who I started talking to. She was really supportive, and for a while I talked to her every week. I suppose really she was the first person I ever talked to about anything emotional at all – I had just never talked about feelings before to anyone. She was really helpful – without her I don’t know if I would have gone on to get other help. She listened, and she got me information and a self help book for bulimia. She was also the one who encouraged me to go to my GP to get help (who gave me anti depressants and referred me to the CMHT), and also to see the college counsellor in the meantime. I was very attached to her. I think my issues with attachment can be attributed in some ways to my relationship with my parents, although as I said before, even when I was very young I was very possessive with friends, so perhaps it has always been in my nature. But it was after my dad left when I was 12 that I started getting really attached to people. Never men – it has always been women, who I suppose I see as maternal figures, who I have become attached to. I feel like it should be men, since it was my dad who left and wasn’t there for me, but I suppose emotionally I wasn’t getting what I needed from my mum, and therefore begun to look for it elsewhere. There have been a number of people I have grown very attached to – wanting to be around them all the time, and for them to care about me and look after me, and I suppose essentially to parent me. It is weird because my mum and I have always been very close, and yet I have always had these fantasies of whoever it is I am attached to at the time (only ever one at a time) taking me home to live with them. But I suppose it is due to my mum not being there for me emotionally when I needed her, because she was struggling so much herself. Maybe that is why even now I find it very difficult to talk to her about how I am feeling. I think I can also attribute my eating problems to my parents to some extent. My parents have very different relationships with food. My mum is tiny, but eats a lot of food, a lot of which is crap, and by rights should be enormous. She rarely weighs herself, and doesn’t understand why I don’t just eat what she does – she can’t seem to comprehend that her metabolism is not normal. My dad is much more careful about what he eats – he is a healthy weight, but he weighs himself daily, and hates it if his weight goes up, and will cut out unhealthier foods until it goes back to where he wants it to be. As a teenager he used to frequently comment on my weight, and suggest that I should try to lose weight, frequently citing my career choice as the reason why I needed to be smaller. He doesn’t do that any more, probably because I haven’t been as big as I was as a teenager, although even then we were still talking healthy BMI range, just nearer the higher end of it. But he does still ask me how my weight is, and will make comments about what I am eating sometimes. As a family they (we?) are very sizeist – I have grown up with negative comments about overweight people etc, so I think that, along with comments about my own weight, coupled with a desperate need to feel in control of something when my life felt so out of control, was really fairly likely to lead to an eating disorder.

Despite my mental health problems, my second year of college was better than my first year in many ways. I think primarily because I felt safe there – it filled the same space for as rehearsals had when I was younger and my dad first left – it was somewhere to escape to. I suppose in a large part because college contained the only person I really trusted to talk to – at this point I had been referred to the CMHT, and at some point during the year had an assessment there, and was then on the waiting list for the rest of that year. My attendance was better, and although I was having problems concentrating, I actually did better than I had in my first year, although still not nearly as well as I should have. And then my second year came to an end, I had A Levels, and I didn’t have a clue what to do next. I was terrified of leaving college, because that was where my only support was. I had no plans to go on to university or anything. And in the end I just couldn’t face leaving. So I stayed on an extra year. I retook the first year of English Lit, because I had got 2 grades higher for my second year than I got in my first year, and then I took both the first and second year of Sociology at the same time, so that I got an A level in a year. I also worked part time at the college, as a Learning Support Assistant. Just before my third year started, I started seeing a Clinical Psychologist at the CMHT, primarily for help with my eating disorder, although during the year my mood got worse and worse, until I attempted suicide at the end of the year. This academic year was 2004/2005, and so was 6 years after my dad had first moved out, in 1998, and 1 or 2 years after we found out he had been seeing someone again, in 2003. During this time he had started spending more and more time back at home – staying there more often, and by some point in 2005 he was more or less living back at home, although he still kept his flat, and spent occasional nights there. But he was back home. The perfect fairytale ending right? And they all lived happily ever after….

I do not by any means think that my problems now are caused by my parents splitting up. As I said before, I don’t think things were quite right when I was even younger than that. But I do think it probably exacerbated matters. I find it really difficult to admit that my parents splitting up could have even contributed slightly to me having mental health problems now. What is the statistic – half of all marriages end in divorce or something like that? And people go through much worse and don’t end up with a slew of psychiatric diagnoses, which makes me think that either I must be really pathetic, other people must be really strong, or my problems come from absolutely nowhere, and it is absolutely nothing to do with my parents. I flit from one view to another depending on my mood. But I can see that L had a point when she said how difficult it must have been having to keep it all a secret, and having to try and contain my emotions to avoid upsetting my mum. That was difficult, and probably isn’t a typical experience of parents’ splitting up, although of course I don’t know for sure. I almost feel guilty for having mental health problems when I have been through so little in comparison to other people. Ok, my parents split up, but so what? That is hardly uncommon. And apart from that I had a good childhood. I got to do whatever activities I wanted, I had a good education, I was loved and looked after. I certainly was never abused in any way, or neglected, or anything else terrible. Nothing bad happened to me. And yet here I am, at age 24, with 7 years in the mental health system, multiple suicide attempts, multiple admissions, numerous CPNs and Psychiatrists and other professionals, medications, etc etc. I feel ashamed of myself for being so weak. For having these problems, when others go through so much worse and yet cope so much better. I really do feel guilty when I think about it. I don’t understand why I am in the position I am in, when there has been nothing serious in my life to cause me to feel like this. I can see that my teenage years weren’t perfect, but they were not bad enough to lead to this. So what is wrong with me? I have absolutely no idea.

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>So, my childhood. I didn’t talk about all of this with L, but I decided I wanted to write about all of it, to put it into context. My childhood memories are fairly sketchy. I only remember odd bits here and there. I have no memories from when I was very young, and really very few before the age of about 10. And even after that, I know certain situations happened etc, but I don’t remember how I felt about them or anything. So a lot of it is quite hazy.

I always think of myself as having a happy childhood, and I think it was overall, and certainly was compared to the experiences of many others, which means I am always reluctant to criticise it in any way. But there were downsides. For a start, I never fitted in. From as far back as I can remember I just didn’t fit in with most other children. I was more comfortable with adult company, which is probably unsurprising, given that I have 3 older siblings, and the closest of those to me in age is 12 years older than me. So I was used to being around adults the majority of the time. When I was young, and I am thinking back from when I was very young up to about the age of 11 or so, I was probably what Lexie would refer to as a ‘pretend child’. I spent hours and hours sitting reading. I would wander around stately homes and gardens with my parents. I was always beautifully dressed. Overall I was pretty well behaved. Which is lucky really, because punishing me generally consisted of sending me to my room, where I would become engrossed in a book, and when told I could go back downstairs reply that I was ok in my bedroom reading thank you. I went to dance classes, and was a Brownie, and had riding lessons. I did well at school. I was intelligent. I had a reading age far higher than my actual age. I got all my spellings right. I think I was generally fairly amenable, although my parents may say otherwise of course… I got on well with my parents. I got on well with my siblings. My sister (yes, the one who now hates me) absolutely doted on me as a young child. So in that sense I was a good child, with a happy childhood.

The less positive things were that as I mentioned, I never really fitted in with my peers – probably because of being a pretend child. I had a best friend (whom I will refer to as C for this post), who I met when I was 4, who lived just down the road from me, and we were at school together until I moved school after a couple of years. I was very possessive over her. I wanted her to play with me the whole time. I wasn’t interested in playing with any of the other children – she was my best friend, and she was the only person I wanted to play with. I don’t remember it, but I apparently used to come home from school incredibly upset if she had been playing with other people instead of me. Early attachment issues, or is that too psychoanalytical? There was another girl at that school (who will be referred to as H for this post) whose mother used to look after me after school when my mother was working, and when I switched schools, she also switched half a term later. She was a very strong character. A bully essentially. Again, I don’t remember it, but apparently sometimes when I would go there after school she would lock me in her bedroom and leave me in there and not let me out. Sometimes she would be nice to me. Other times she wouldn’t. When I moved school at 7, I left C behind, although I still saw her a lot, and whilst I got on fine with the children at my new school, again, I didn’t really fit in. I wasn’t ‘cool’ in any way. I was certainly not one of the popular girls. I would try and tag onto some of the other less popular girls, but I remember often finding myself alone. I was also ill a lot – I had a lot of problems with my ears – constant ear infections, multiple burst eardrums, various other infections. I spent an awful lot of my childhood on antibiotics. My mum generally used to still send me into school when I was ill, as she worked there, and I was too young to stay home alone, so I either went to lessons, or if I was really ill I went to the sick bay. I didn’t enjoy school though. From a fairly young age I remember exaggerating how ill I felt to try and get out of going to class. I remember pushing near the bottom of my neck to make me retch so that my mum would think I was sick. I am not sure why I didn’t want to go to school, as it wasn’t like I struggled with the work or anything, and it was a nice school. I just didn’t want to go.

I have also had issues with food my entire life. Not an eating disorder, but I have always been an incredibly fussy eater, to the point where it has interfered with my life. In some ways I am slightly better now with that, but overall the foods I will eat now aren’t very different to those I would eat as a child. When I was inpatient on an eating disorder programme they said I had always had disordered eating because of how fussy I was. I don’t know whether or not this is true, or what is behind it, or if it contributed to my eating disorder in later life, but there have certainly always been issues surrounding food. I was always very attached to my mum. I suppose most children are, but I didn’t like her being out or away from me. I would stay the night with friends, but I remember getting into a terrible state when I went on Brownie camp once. I absolutely hated it. I was horribly home sick, I had issues with most of the food, and I just wanted to be at home. The whole time felt like torture, and all the other children were having a great time. Obviously none of these things were major problems. Ok, I didn’t really fit in with my peers and was teased a bit, but most kids are. And I was happy at home as far as I can remember.

Up to this point I would consider myself to have had a happy childhood. Although if I look back on it I can see signs that maybe things weren’t quite right even that early on, ie up to the age of 11. But I don’t know if that is just going into the realms of navel gazing. But things like being very attached to certain people, and feigning or exaggerating illness to avoid school, when actually there was no reason to not want to go that I can see do strike me as not being quite right. I also always had a need to please people – generally adults rather than peers. But there have always been issues with relationships I suppose. And of course issues with food. There was no reason for me to be unhappy, but I wouldn’t say that I was happy, and I don’t know why. Maybe there has always been something wrong, although I don’t know what. But overall everything in my life was pretty simple up to this point, and there was no reason for me to be unhappy. It was after that that things became more complicated, but I will finish writing that tomorrow, as the more I write the more flashes of memory are coming back, and I need some time to process them. There was nothing I would consider to be traumatic, or anything more than an awful lot of children go through, and not nearly as bad as lots, but I still feel like I need to write about it. The appointment with L yesterday got me thinking a lot, but I will go into more detail regarding that tomorrow.

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